They came on Saturdays and sometimes on holidays, with similar, grungy sarees and identical expressionless faces. You could tell they had arrived when the noise began. Thud, thud, thud. Slow, rhythmic beats, as large stone pestles hit even larger stone mortars. Thud, thud, thud. Dried red chillies crushed to red dust that would bring tears to many an eye. Thud, thud, thud. It was hard, tiring work so it was just as well that they worked in twos. Thud, thud, thud. I never knew where the pestles and the mortars came from or where they went when the women were done. I didn’t even realise they were gone till years later, when it struck me that Saturdays had suddenly gone silent.
The surest way to spot him was by the large white bundle on his back. When opened, his treasures would unfurl on various middle-class living room floors. Stiff cotton sarees that spoke of simplicity. Rich silk fabric that whispered its understated luxury. All the way from Calcutta, madam. Won’t find such patterns here, madam. Very good quality, madam. Last piece in this design, madam. How many sarees he sold – nobody knows. His bundle certainly never seemed any smaller. Till one day when it disappeared from the middle-class landscape altogether.